Best Things to See and Do in Honolulu, Hawaii

View of Waikiki Beach, Honolulu, Hawaii, photo by Luxury Travel Writer Nancy D. Brown
View of Waikiki Beach, Honolulu, Hawaii

The first place I take a visitor from out of town is to the North Shore, so they can see that there is more to the island than just Waikiki. Locals call the North Shore “the country.”

When I crave local cuisine, I turn to Side Street Inn. The misoyaki chicken is tender and moist, the kim chee fried rice offers the perfect balance of salt and spice, and the fried pound cake with ice cream is dangerously delicious.

To escape work I hit up happy hour in Chinatown. Indigo, Bambu 2.0, thirtyninehotel and Bar 35  all have great drink specials and a hip, urban ambiance.

For complete quiet, I can hide away at The Kahala Resort. It’s only 10 minutes outside of Waikiki yet feels a world away. Afternoon tea or just a cocktail by the beach is the perfect place to unwind.

If you have to order one thing off the menu at Town, get the organic chicken. It’s brined 24 hours then pan roasted with pancetta, grapes and croutons, then tossed with tatsoi from Ma’o Farms.

Honolulu is my one stop shop for everything vintage! Check out Aloha De Nime  for vintage aloha shirts and denim, Muumuu Heaven for sundresses made of out of recycled muumuu, or Bailey’s Antiques and Aloha Shirts for classically vintage aloha shirts.

When I’m feeling cash-strapped, I go to Rainbow Drive In for the Mix Plate.  At only $7.25 you get BBQ beef, breaded mahimahi, boneless chicken, two scoops of rice, and a choice of macaroni salad or cole slaw. The plate is large enough to share between two people.

For a huge splurge, I go to Chef Mavro Restaurant. Chef Mavro, a James Beard Award winning chef, was one of the “founding fathers” of Hawaii Regional Cuisine. He is committed to working with local farmers to get the freshest ingredients possible. He’s still on top of his game, as the restaurant just received a Five-Diamond rating from AAA and was named top Gayot’s list of Top 40 restaurants in the U.S.

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Luau, hula, auana women, polynesian cultural center, Luxury Travel Writer nancy D. Brown
Things to See and Do in Honolulu include a visit to the Polynesian Cultural Center

Photo ops on Oahu include the seven villages of Polynesia at Polynesian Cultural Center, Byodo-In Temple, Halona Blowhole, the white sand Lanikai Beach, or any beach as the sun sets.

The best vantage points are taken by walking to the top of Mt. Leahi (Diamond Head), Makapuu Lighthouse, Nuuanu Pali Lookout, or Mt. Tantalus.

The most random thing about Oahu is the Waikiki Spam Jam.

On Oahu, an active day outdoors involves swimming or stand-up paddle boarding at the beach, hiking or horseback riding along one of the island’s many trails, or power shopping at Ala Moana Center – the world’s largest outdoor mall.

My favorite walking route is around Ala Moana Beach Park.

Oahu’s best museum is the Honolulu Academy of Arts.

For a night of dancing, go to Pearl Ultralounge.

Liliha Bakery is the spot for late night dining.

To find out what’s going on a night or on weekends, read The Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

You can tell a lot about Oahu’s history by visiting Iolani Palace or the USS Arizona Memorial.

In the spring you should attend Lantern Floating Hawaii.

In the summer you should attend Prince Lot Hula Festival.

In the fall you should attend the Aloha Festivals.

In the winter you should go to Vans Triple Crown of Surfing.

A hidden gem in Honolulu is Doris Duke’s 1937 estate, Shangri La.

For a great breakfast treat or espresso, go to the Diamond Head Marketand Grill on Monsarrat Avenue, just outside of Waikiki. Their blueberry cream cheese scones are to die for. I also love to visit the Kapiolani Community College Farmers Market on Saturdays for breakfast. Fried green tomatoes, North Shore Cattle cheeseburgers, Ohana Seafood’s salmon fried rice, and Neapolitan Pizza are among my favorites.

Just outside of Honolulu you can visit Kailua and enjoy gourmet sandwiches and daily deli selections at the Kalapawai Deli. Then you can hit Kailua Beach, and if you’re feeling adventurous, kayak to the Mokulua Islands. Rentals are available through Twogood Kayaks or Kailua Sailboards & Kayaks.

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Experience the Dolphin Encounter Program at Sea Life Adventure Park in Honolulu, Hawaii
Experience the Dolphin Interactive Program at Sea Life Park Hawaii in Honolulu

The best way to see Honolulu is to rent a car, and plan day trips to each neighborhood — from Kailua to Chinatown.

If you have kids, you won’t want to miss: Bishop Museum. The Science Adventure Center is especially popular with kids. If you are looking to swim with the dolphins, make a reservation at Sea Life Park Hawaii.

What are your favorite things to do in Honolulu, Hawaii?

Mahalo to Rebecca Pang, North America PR Manager for the Oahu Visitors Bureau for assistance with this post.

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9 thoughts on “Best Things to See and Do in Honolulu, Hawaii”

  1. Really enjoyed your post. Just one thing: my limited knowledge about this place says that there are lots of overseas tourists who come to Hawaii. Does this mean that the prices are seriously high in most of the locations here? I was wanting to know if there are any particular seasons during which the cost of lodging here would be a bit toned down…thanks for your post again!

  2. Aloha! Glad to see you are still finding new and interesting things to write about in Hawaii! Let me know if you ever make it back to the Magic Isle!

  3. @anubhav Thanks for your comments. With the current economy, Hawaii is a great vacation value. The least expensive time to visit Hawaii is during the shoulder season and the summer time. Thanksgiving and Christmas are expensive times to visit, as many people want to escape to a warm, tropical climate for the holidays.

  4. Love this blog; it’s making me reminisce the weeks I’ve spent in Kailua. The only drawback was when the grocery store was low on yogurt and milk because the boat hadn’t arrived yet!

  5. This is one of the coolest post i read on Honolulu.I missed some places to visit in my trip to Honolulu last year but this time i will surely visit all these places you mentioned above.thanks for sharing.

  6. The Lyon Arboretum at the back of Manoa valley – pretty much straight back mauka (toward the mountains) from Waikiki, passing the University of Hawai’i on the way, is a neat contrast to town. If traffic’s not too bad, it only takes 15 mins or so to drive there, but the climate is all tropical jungle while Waikiki has the rainfall of a desert. I worked there for a couple of years while a student at UH.

    I’m not a huge fan of Waikiki, but if I’m going to hit the beach there I always go to a little beach on the very far Koko Head side (toward Diamond Head) called Kaimanas. I think it’s other name is San Souci. It’s just past the aquarium. I like it because it’s usually not as crowded and it feels less like it’s in the middle of the city. If you’re a runner, a jog around Diamond Head with a dip at Kaimanas is a treat.

    Another cool place is called China Walls. It’s a little sea cliff – say up to 10-12 feet at the highest point – where you can do some tame cliff jumping and snorkeling. Two warnings though: 1)It’s really hard to find unless you have really good directions. It’s tucked away in a neighborhood in Port Lock down by Hawai’i Kai on the east side of the island, just before you go up the hill to Hanauma Bay. You have to wind your way through a neighborhood to a certain cul de sac where the short trail starts. 2) There is no lifeguard and if the waves are up at all it can be pretty dangerous, so as they say “if in doubt, don’t go out.” If the waves are big – usually in the summer, it can be a pretty cool place to sit and watch the surf though.

    Aaaaloha!

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